A friend told me the prospect of seeing the second installment of the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise kept him going through the exhausting week before Thanksgiving break. I felt the same. I remember how “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (2016) was a necessary and magical escape from the loneliness of my first semester at Colgate. I hoped the newly released movie would be a fun experience I could share with my friends and other excited Harry Potter fans. That was not the case.
“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” begins with Grindelwald’s (Johnny Depp) escape from prison during his transfer to a London prison. It jumps forward three months to protagonist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) appealing for his international travel rights, having lost them from his chaotic visit to New York. The British Ministry of Magic, which includes his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) and old friend Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), promises to restore his rights if he helps locate Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller). Newt declines and encounters Dumbledore (Jude Law), who entreats him to complete the very same mission.
Everything after that is jumbled. The adored Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) and Jacob Kowolski (Dan Fogler), now a couple, appear at Newt’s home in a pretty disturbing sequence. Jacob is somehow un-ffected by the city-wide obliviation (that we witnessed at the end of the first film), and explains that it only erased his “bad memories.” Newt suspects that Queenie has Jacob under a love spell and casts him out of it. Queenie explains that wizards and Muggles are free to marry in London, unlike in the U.S., and has forcibly brought an unwilling Jacob along. Jacob isn’t even aware until then that they’ve left the country.
This scene was the first sign that the movie was going to be a mess. I re- ally believe that J.K. Rowling is brilliant enough to think of a better explanation for Jacob’s unaltered memories. Solely retaining “good memories?” I don’t think so. It felt lazy and cheap. In addition, Queenie’s actions are completely out of character. She was loveable, bubbly and thoughtful in the first movie. It was an uncomfortable stretch to see her act so foolishly, going so far as to violate her boyfriend’s consent. Her trajectory only declines from there.
How is Credence still alive? No one knows. They don’t even bother with an explanation for him. The sequel tries so hard to retain the original film’s characters, but doesn’t know how to balance them. New characters are thrown into the mix, too, threatening to topple the narrative. Leta’s storyline is poorly handled, and no character’s motivations are explored in depth. “The Crimes of Grindelwald” sets its goals so high that it ends up achieving few to none. The film is a long 134 minutes too. You come out wondering how you spent so much time learning so little.
That isn’t to say that all aspects of the movie were disappointing. The production values and creatures were a delight (the Niffler is my favorite) and Jude Law is a perfect choice for Dumbledore. Nicholas Flamel (Brontis Jodorowsky) was also a great and humorous addition. To be fair, “The Crimes of Grindelwald” has good intentions. There are clear parallels of Grindelwald’s pureblood agenda with Nazism and our own political climate today. It’s almost a little eerie.
Yet, it’s also only the second film of the series, and we still have three more to go. Can the series redeem itself? As long it doesn’t waste the wonderful cast, stays faithful to its intricate world and remembers its overall heart, I’m hopeful it can.
Contact Gloria Han at [email protected]